Local Leaders Rev Up For New Economy

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Government and business leaders from rural communities around the state, including a large contingent from the Rim country, heard Arizona Governor Jane Hull promise a greater emphasis on their needs at the annual Rural Development Conference in Sedona this month.

The three-day event featured seminars on such topics as electronic marketing, historic preservation, sustaining livable communities, and the new economy. The latter was also the focus of Gov. Hull's address.

"You represent attractive places to live and work, places that are becoming more and more desirable," Gov. Hull told attendees. "That can be good and bad. How you handle this will determine your future."

According to Tom Kaleta, Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO, "The governor acknowledged the fact that rural communities have not benefited from the huge jumps that have been seen in Phoenix and to a lesser degree in Tucson, so she's now trying to get the rural communities of Arizona involved in the new economy."

Kaleta said the governor is also going to commit some money to rural communities to help them develop the programs they need to participate more fully in the new economy. "But of even more significance," he added, "the governor promised to restructure the Arizona Department of Commerce to reflect this concern about rural Arizona, to the point where key contact people will be appointed within the department to help rural communities become more involved."

Payson Town Manager Rich Underkofler, who was also in attendance, emphasized the diversity of the workshop topics and the quality of the information presented therein. "This was my first time attending this particular conference," he said, "and I was very impressed with the workshops. In fact, I got some good leads on sources of money we might be able to tap to acquire land and renovate structures in the redevelopment area."

Payson Mayor Ray Schum was particularly excited about a seminar he attended entitled, "How to Build a Better Downtown," presented by Kent Burnes, a leading consultant on redevelopment districts and Main Street projects. Burnes was the first director of the Flagstaff Main Street project.

Through the seminar the mayor says he gained a better understanding of what it means to be accepted into the Main Street program. "Being included as a Main Street community is not a self-sustaining end in itself," Schum said. "It's only a beginning with a lot of work ahead."

While the seminar was an energizing experience, the mayor says it was also a wake-up call to the challenge that follows. "Communities nationwide are now restoring old downtown areas with great success," Schum said, "but it takes a tremendous amount of planning and sheer effort."

One of the highlights of the conference for both Underkofler and Schum was the Arizona Main Street Awards Dinner, at which Payson was honored for its recent designation as an Arizona Main Street Community by the Department of Commerce. "It was really nice to be at a conference that the big cities didn't monopolize," Underkofler said. "For a change, there wasn't anybody there from Maricopa County."

Kaleta was encouraged by the fact that the state is now recognizing that tourism qualifies as a legitimate economic development project. "One of the nice things about tourism," he pointed out, "is that it doesn't require a lot of infrastructure."

As she wrapped up her remarks, Gov. Hull challenged attendees to participate in her Arizona Partnership for the new economy, a program that encourages rural communities to develop creative alliances while preserving their unique heritage and quality of life.

"Arizona has a great opportunity to prosper in the new economy," the governor concluded, "and rural communities can be a vital component of that prosperity."

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